The past six days have been a roller coaster ride for dozens of Baltimore businesses that suddenly discovered they had an important party to plan.
The companies lease suites at the M&T Bank Stadium, and Sunday, when the Ravens clinched a first-round playoff spot, those luxury boxes became some of the hottest real estate in town.
Dealing with the frenetic logistics of whom to invite to the game and how to provide for the guests was a happy holiday challenge.
Hundreds of employees, business and civic leaders and clients will reap the reward of those efforts today when they crowd into the stadium's 108 luxury suites - brimming with crab cakes, barbecue, cold beer and fine wines - to watch the Ravens face off against the Tennessee Titans.
The suites are expected to hold 2,900 people - at a collective ticket price to the companies of $290,000.
(To get the tickets, the box holders had to spend $379,900, buying more expensive tickets that will be used if the Ravens and wild card Denver Broncos advance to the American Football Conference championship game Jan. 18. Companies will receive credit against this fall's regular season tickets if that game isn't played in Baltimore.)
Despite last week's chaos, finding guests willing to sit in the luxury boxes and watch the Ravens play a game that could lead to the Super Bowl wasn't difficult, corporate representatives conceded.
"Most people found a way to get the message and get back to us," said David H. Nevins, a spokesman for Comcast Corp., with a chuckle. "This is a pretty unique invitation. Everyone was quite thrilled."
Companies started calling to secure suite tickets Sunday immediately after the Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Cleveland Browns, ensuring the Ravens a spot in the playoffs. Another slew of people who attended the matchup between Baltimore and the Pittsburgh Steelers that night called from cell phones about 1 a.m. Monday on their way home from the Ravens win.
When Theresa L. Abato, the Ravens' director of premium services, arrived in her office Monday morning she had 82 voicemail messages.
"The response was off the chart," she said. "The enthusiasm seems greater this time [than in 2000 when the Ravens played host to a playoff game on the way to the 2001 Super Bowl]. I think it's because people know we can do it. They're jumping on the bandwagon sooner."
The quick turnaround between the regular season's end and the playoff game left scant time for planning.
"It was literally minutes after the Sunday game, a few of us got together on the phone and put together a list," said Nevins, the Comcast spokesman. "We talked about the best use of the tickets, because the invitations had to be issued and accepted very quickly."
Word went out to the lucky recipients through a combination of phone calls and e-mail. Nevins was still working out the fine points of filling about 30 seats on the 10-yard line, late the afternoon of New Year's Eve.
Today's tickets serve as a thank-you to employees who have done an exceptional job, Nevins said, adding that they build good will with business, civic leaders and clients alike. For clients, he says, Comcast hopes the tickets will strengthen loyalty.
Comcast, which paid nearly $100,000 to be the corporate sponsor for the playoff game, will give away towels - white, in golf-towel size, with the Ravens and Comcast logos - to every fan at the game today.
"You'll see all these white towels shaking around at critical moments in the game when they need to turn up the volume," Nevins said. "Most people will view it as a keepsake. Some will have the towel literally framed and hang them in their offices or homes."
By Wednesday afternoon, Steve Battista, director of marketing for Under Armour Performance Apparel, still didn't know who would be sitting in that company's 24 seats in a suite on the 45-yard line.
He and other Under Armour employees flew to Florida to see the University of Maryland Terrapins trounce West Virginia University Mountaineers in Thursday's Gator Bowl, and had to wait until yesterday to work out the final details of today's game.
"When the Ravens make the playoffs, you realize you have a lot more friends than you did before," he said.
Battista said the company's tickets will go to employees and clients.
"We're a real football crowd," he said. "You think of guys in suites, hobnobbing and drinking champagne. We're a beer-drinking, hot dog crowd. We always have a good party going on."
Baltimore-based Action Business Systems will have 50 guests at today's game, including 34 people sitting in a suite between the 25- and 35-yard lines.
Bill Wallace, the company's president and chief executive, said the guests were selected by the end of the day Monday. "We always have a list of clients who are very interested," he said. "People were contacting us. We were out of tickets in no time."
The copier company paid more than $12,000 for the tickets to this game and the championship game that may follow, Wallace said.